Donna Ringle '74 & Lynn Sohacki '84
A Look Forward from Clarkson's First Female Graduate (1965)
to Two Later Female Graduates, 1974 and 1984
By Donna Ringle '74
I enjoyed reading the article in the fall 2012 Clarkson alumni magazine, especially the editorial on page 45 entitled "A Look Back: Clarkson's First Female Graduate in Nearly 60 Years." It was refreshing to read about a predecessor female engineering graduate, Norma Wagner.
I am also a native of "The North Country," and had attended Clarkson College of Technology (CCT) along with other high school students for a few weeks in the summer of 1968. We made salicylic acid in the lab, which prompted me to major in chemistry and biology as an undergraduate. After spending a couple years in a college near New York City, I grew increasingly homesick for the beautiful Adirondack nature I knew and loved. As a result, I decided to complete the remainder of my bachelor degree studies at SUNY Potsdam. Sometime before registration for my final semester, I was informed of a wonderful graduate school opportunity at Clarkson. The recipient would receive a scholarship covering tuition for classes leading to a master's degree in Environmental Science and Engineering offered by the Civil Engineering Department.
I immediately applied, and was provisionally accepted pending completion of my undergraduate program. My remaining coursework was to include undergraduate Clarkson classes to prove my ability to do engineering work. After completing these requirements in August, 1973, I began my graduate studies in September and finished in August of 1974. I obtained a position in the Center for Business Technology (CBT) as a Sanitary Engineer housed within the National Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of Technology) in Gaithersburg, Md. immediately after graduation. My starting date was September 15, 1974. I had been working a year before my official Clarkson graduation ceremony in May 1975. There were 13 of us completing our Civil Engineering master's degrees, including 12 males and myself.
From this initial five-year stint with the federal government, I have experienced a varied career path, including roles as a stationary pollution control engineer with General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Michigan, a sales engineer with Nalco Chemical in Houston, Texas, a project engineer and project coordinator with NSF International in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a sales/marketing specialist with Gelman Sciences and later Pall Corporation also in Ann Arbor. I had the opportunity to develop a global perspective about the impact of pollution during a period of my life spent overseas for several years, particularly at an International Offshore Oil Conference. There were attendees from all over the world sharing their environmental concerns and/or technology developed for pollution mitigation in the offshore oil industry.
Today things have changed from those days almost 40 years ago when I attended Clarkson and started my career! There are no more punch cards or analog/digital computers that take up a whole room! A basic calculator no longer costs $100, and graduate school is much more than $95/credit hour! Slide rules had ended by the time I started, but just barely! Technology that I explored in feasibility studies such as use of sewage sludge for fertilizer, ultrafiltration of water shipboard for ultimate reuse, automation of instrumentation in wastewater plants, and the recycling of solid waste are now realities. Also, from no women colleagues in graduate school, and only one in my first job, I now work with three other women engineers!
I currently work as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Environmental Engineer. The SEE program was designed for adults 55 or over in part to assist the EPA in its effort to protect the nation's environment by allowing the agency to supplement its workforce. I was excited to meet another Clarkson woman graduate, Lynn Sohacki '84, who now serves as my monitor in the program. Lynn works directly for the EPA as an environmental engineer, while I support the agency's efforts through a cooperative agreement under the SEE Program for SSA Inc. In addition to her engineering duties, Lynn serves as the monitor for nine of us, keeping track of our time cards and any issues that might arise.
I asked Lynn about her Clarkson story and subsequent career path since graduation. Her father is Dr. Leonard Sohacki, a former biology professor from SUNY Oneonta, N.Y, who was greatly involved in environmental ecology and research in the New York lakes and fresh water preserves. Like her dad, Lynn had a real appreciation for the environment and enjoyed math and science, particularly physics. She was enrolled at SUNY Oneonta, and knew they had a 3/2 program with Clarkson. In addition to her major in math and minor in physics, she also earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Clarkson. Lynn began her career in Washington D.C., at the Patent and Trademark Office, and then took two years off to work with the Daughters of Charity. She then returned to D.C. to work with the Office of Air and Radiation in 1991 in the field of automotive emissions. A few years later, she transferred to the laboratory location in Ann Arbor, MI where we met and she continues to work today.
When Lynn attended Clarkson in the 1980s, the engineering buildings at Clarkson now had women's rest rooms! "Clarkson College of Technology" was changed to "Clarkson College," the old name on the diploma cover and the new one on her actual diploma. Every student was required to purchase their own personal computers. There were several women in her classes.
Like Norma Wagner expressed in her story, one thing that hasn't changed for both Lynn and me is our appreciation of Clarkson University for opening its doors to female as well as male students. Another constant that remains is our mutual desire to make this world a better place, and also the desire to preserve our environmental resources as each of us goes about our daily lives personally and professionally as individuals and as a society.
Pictured below are Donna and Lynn.